Category Archives: The Clintons

An Open Letter to Madam Secretary: Run, Hillary, Run!

(Cross-posted at

She won’t, of course.  But if I were a Democrat, here’s why I think she should.   (Please note the disclaimer: I’m posing as a Democrat!)

To begin, the President is in deep political trouble.  I’ve presented some basic economic indicators earlier that show the historical comparisons indicating that Obama is in Jimmy Carter territory.  These are crude measures, of course.  But more sophisticated forecast models, such as Yale economist Ray Fair’s, which uses per capita growth of real Gross Domestic Product during the three quarters preceding the election; the growth in inflation during the incumbent’s term; and the number of quarters during the incumbent’s term in which real GDP grows by more than 3.2 percent to predict the popular vote, now show Obama winning slightly less than 50% of 2012 popular vote.  Given current economic projections, there’s not likely to be any more strong growth quarters between now and November, 2012 meaning the odds for Obama’s reelection are probably not going to get better. To be sure, most of the political science forecast models don’t kick in until a year from now, so it’s a bit early to rely on them.  But if Clinton is going to run, she can’t wait.  And right now Obama is very vulnerable to a strong Republican challenger.

Of course, the fundamentals won’t change if she’s running. But note that the forecast models aren’t predicting a Republican blowout – they are forecasting a race that is, at this point, too close to call.  That means marginal changes in turnout among key groups are crucial. Here’s where Hillary has the advantage.  To begin, her stint as Secretary of State has done wonders for her approval rating, as indicated by Gallup poll surveys dating back to her time in the White House.  While the President, mired deep in the political muck of Washington politics, sees his approval falling to 40%, Hillary’s has climbed close to 70% approval – and even higher in other surveys. Yes, this is a partly an artifact of her position, which places her above the fray of domestic politics, and yes it will fall if she enters the race.  But the fact remains that her public profile has been bolstered in the last several years, and she enters the race with that advantage.  Indeed, she can use that non-partisan vantage point to frame her decision to run: it’s not about politics – it’s about the future of this country both here and abroad.

Her second advantage relates to the first:  she’s not part of the mess at home. She didn’t weigh in on the stimulus bill, or health care, or the banking overhaul, and she certainly bears no responsibility for the state of the economy.  In this respect, she’s the Obama of 2012: a candidate who can run on the promise of change, without specifying the nature of that change.  And she’s has an added advantage: years of governing experience in the White House, the Senate and most recently within the foreign policy establishment.  To be blunt, her resume outshines the incumbent’s. Meanwhile, her liabilities (the health care fiasco, Hill and Bill) have largely receded from public consciousness.  And in any case they are now dwarfed by Obama’s baggage.  In 2008,  Obama was the unsullied one. Not anymore.  Heck, even the Big Dawg has been largely rehabilitated.

This leads to a third point: buyer’s remorse.  It’s not one she can directly bring up (after all, she’s above politics), but others will certainly remind voters that she did warn you.  Remember that 3 a.m. phone call?  Remember the warning about the rose-colored petals falling from the sky?  Remember about learning on the job?  Sure you do. Doesn’t a part of you, deep down, realize she was right? If I heard it once this past week, I heard it a thousand times: you were duped by Obama’s rhetoric – the whole “hopey-changey” thing. And you wanted to be part of history too – to help break down the ultimate racial barrier.  That’s ok.  We were all young once. But now it’s time to elect someone who can play hardball, who understands how to be ruthless, who will be a real…uh….tough negotiator in office.   There won’t be any debate about Hillary’s, er, “man-package”.

All of these factors mean Hillary will appeal to precisely those voters who are most disillusioned with Obama, and who the Democrats lost in the 2010 midterms: older voters, the less educated and independents.  Moreover, she has stronger support in the key battleground states of Ohio and Florida and maybe even Pennsylvania, whose electoral votes may determine the 2012 election.  And the chance to finally put a woman in the Oval Office will energize voters in a way that Obama’s candidacy cannot.

The problem with this scenario, of course, is that it ignores a very big obstacle: the nomination fight.  The reality is that, at least until the recent debt deal, Obama continues to have strong support among Democrats.  Why should we expect Clinton to prevail in a nomination fight?  Indeed, a Gallup poll survey from last September shows Obama beating Clinton in a hypothetical nomination contest.

Politically speaking, however, that poll came out ages ago.  Since then, it has become clear that the economy is not going to rebound any time soon.  Obama’s approval ratings continue to drop, and this is before the full impact of the debt negotiations on Democratic support – particularly within Obama’s base: those Democrats with higher incomes and better education, as well as minorities and younger voters.  The other fact to remember is that despite the gaffes in Clinton’s 2008 primary run – the failure to fully contest caucus states, the mishandling of the Florida and Michigan delegates issue, she essentially fought Obama to a nomination draw.  Indeed, by some estimates she won more popular votes than he.  In the end, his nomination was secured not by winning enough delegates at the ballot box, but by gaining support from the non-elected superdelegates.  Four years later, who do you think has gained more politically among likely Democratic voters?

Make no mistake about it: a contested nomination would be a nasty, brutish spectacle. But in all likelihood the winner would come out stronger.  Think back to 2008 – despite the appeals from Obama backers that Clinton should drop out for the good of the party, she stayed in until the end – and in so doing exposed vulnerabilities in his candidacy in time for him to address them before the general election.  A primary challenge will be good for the party – it will give Democrats a real choice. It will mobilize the base. And it will expose candidate strengths and weaknesses leading into the general election.  Remember, there’s no evidence that previous primary challengers weakened incumbents.  The causal arrow runs in the other direction: incumbents like Carter in 1980 were challenged because they were already weak.  A Clinton run won’t damage Obama, and may strengthen him – if he fends her off.

And really – isn’t it time to elect a qualified woman as President? We are way behind the rest of the world in this regard.

But there’s a more important reason why Hillary should run – one that transcends party, or personal gratification, or payback, or breaking barriers.  She should run for the good of the nation.  She should run to prevent a rollback of health care, to make sure the Bush tax cuts are not renewed, to protect entitlement programs, to make sure Republicans – who are poised to regain the Senate in 2012 – don’t control all three governing institutions through 2016.  It’s not about her – it’s about the future of the country.

Madam Secretary, if you are reading this – the President is a good man who happened to be very unlucky in office.  He inherited problems of almost unprecedented severity.  But this is no time for sentiment to cloud your judgment.  You need to do what’s right.

If not now, when?  If not you, who?  The nation cries out for leadership.

Run, Hillary, Run!

Boehner to the President: Do You Two-Step?

With the August 2 default deadline a week away, President Obama will go on national television tonight, against the backdrop of dueling partisan plans to solve the debt impasse.  Presumably Obama will try to position himself above the political fray but will also, at least implicitly, make the case for supporting the Senate plan unveiled last night by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  The Reid plan would pair an increase in the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion through the 2012 election with a proposed $2.7 trillion cut in discretionary spending across the next ten years.  The plan is controversial, however, because it includes a trillion dollars in proposed “savings” from winding down the U.S. military involvement in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Critics contend that savings from a reduced U.S. involvement in these wars will occur whether the Reid plan is passed or not, so this does not actually constitute additional budgetary reductions.  (This is the exact criticism Democrats leveled at the Paul Ryan budget plan, which included a similar accounting gimmick.  But now the shoe is on the other political foot.) Another $40 billion would come from reducing “waste, fraud, and abuse” – a perennial congressional scapegoat. In addition, the Reid bill would include $100 billion in mandatory program savings, including $30 billion in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac changes, and additional cuts in agricultural subsidies.  Interest savings from cutting projected spending would produce another $400 billion.

The key element of the plan, almost certainly inserted at the President’s request, was an increase in the debt ceiling past the 2012 election. And this sets up dueling votes with the House Republican plan, which centers on a two-step process.  In step one, an immediate $1 trillion raise in the debt ceiling would be paired with legislation that would cut discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. However, the increase in the debt ceiling would only extend to early 2012.  A second increase in the debt borrowing ceiling would be linked to agreement on an additional $1.8 trillion in spending cuts.

To identify the additional $1.8 trillion in cuts, the Republican House bill would create a bipartisan joint House-Senate committee to report back to Congress by November 23.  Significantly, the committee’s deficit savings could be achieved either through spending cuts or tax increases, or a combination of both — whatever a majority of the committee and, eventually, the House and Senate will support. After the majority of the committee provides its recommendations to Congress, both chambers would be required to hold an up or down vote, without amendments or threat of a filibuster – by Dec. 23. (The Reid plan has a similar proposal to create a bipartisan budget cutting committee in the Senate, whose recommendations would get a guaranteed up-or-down vote in that chamber.) If the committee’s recommendation is shot down, however, there would be reprise of the current debt ceiling impasse, but this time in the heart of an election year – something the President wants to avoid.

To mollify conservative House supporters of the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation, the Republicans would hold a separate House vote on a balanced budget proposal.  The House bill also includes caps on discretionary spending in future years.

Note that neither plan is very specific about where the cuts in discretionary spending will occur, but presumably they are targeting the same areas identified in the “grand bargain”, so in theory there is room for compromise between House and Senate in terms of what will be cut. Neither plan includes tax increases, although there is room for that in the second stage of the House plan.  The major difference between the two is whether to adopt a two-step process or a single extension past 2012.  Both sides claim the credit markets will oppose the other sides’ approach.

Note that both plans face severe obstacles, and carry heavy political risks.  The House bill is more likely to pass its parent chamber.  It still must be granted a Rule by the House Rules committee, but assuming that passes it could come up for a vote on Wednesday, where I expect it to pass the House on largely partisan lines, despite grumbling from conservatives who strongly support a balanced budget amendment, and who likely don’t’ want to raise the debt ceiling without deeper spending cuts.  Boehner’s strategy is clear: by proposing the House bill as an alternative to Reid’s, he hopes to provide political cover to Senate Republicans to vote down the Senate bill. Note that Reid’s bill will face a potential filibuster threat and so will need to muster 60 votes to get through the Senate.

And that’s where the President comes in: his goal tonight is to put public pressure on Senate Republicans to back the Reid bill. However, I expect him to play the centrist, mediator-in-chief role to the hilt, by trying to position himself above the political fray and instead emphasizing the need to compromise. His speech will be followed by a Republican rebuttal by Boehner himself.  I’ll be live blogging, technology allowed.

As always, I encourage you to join in.

Hillary in 2012? Resurrecting the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits

You knew it would happen. One year into the Obama presidency, with health care legislation stymied and the economy still shedding jobs, albeit at a slower pace, and with Obama’s approval/disapproval ratings hovering near the break-even mark, some political pundit was going to raise the inevitable question: should Hillary challenge Obama in 2012?  And so it has, with pundits here and here openly speculating about whether Hillary will take the plunge in 2012.

If Hillary does decide to throw her pantsuits back into the ring, the trigger, according to this columnist will be clear evidence that Iran has acquired nuclear weapons and/or another terrorist attack on U.S. soil following the failed Christmas Day crotch-bombing and the Fort Hood massacre.  Clinton will cite these events, and Obama’s unwillingness to take a harder line against Iran, as her justification for resigning as Secretary of State, thus freeing her to challenge Obama in the 2012 nomination race.  Quoting the familiar “Washington insiders” (and who are they?  Bill Clinton?), the columnist argues that Hillary feels marginalized as Secretary of State and – quoting statistics from my blog – points out that only about half of the secretaries of state serving in the post-World War II era have lasted a full term.  He writes:

“The same, seemingly in-the-know sources say Mrs. Clinton will also resign — and run for president — if there is another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland, such as the Fort Hood massacre by a Muslim fundamentalist Army major, or the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. passenger jet by a Nigerian Islamist, and Mr. Obama does not respond by scrapping his soft approach to terrorism, which includes treating alien enemy combatants as common criminals entitled to civilian court trials, lawyers, and plea bargains.”

Does some significant portion of the public that supported Obama in 2008 now feel buyer’s remorse?  Undoubtedly.  Does Clinton feel marginalized as Secretary of State?  Almost certainly yes.  Did she campaign in part on the argument that she was better prepared than Obama to prosecute the war on terror and to conduct foreign policy more generally (remember that early morning phone call?)  Yes she did.  And does it appear that she has taken a harder line on several key foreign policy issues than Obama?   Well, yes, if leaks regarding her views on Iran and the war in Afghanistan can be believed.

Will all this be enough to trigger a primary challenge?  I doubt it.  To begin, the odds of wresting the party nomination from a sitting president are not good.  The last two serious challenges occurred in 1992, when Pat Buchanan challenged President George Bush the Elder for the Republican nomination, and in 1980, when Ted Kennedy ran against President Jimmy Carter.  Both challenges were triggered by perceptions that the incumbent presidents were vulnerable – perceptions confirmed when both Carter and Bush went on to lose in the general election.  But neither Buchanan nor Kennedy came close to unseating the president, although Kennedy took his fight to the Convention.  And both were later accused, unfairly in my view, for weakening the incumbent in his general election fight.  It takes a pretty hefty ego to think one can buck those odds, or risk the huge backlash if the effort fails and Obama then goes on to lose the general election in 2012.

There is a second reason why I don’t think Clinton will challenge Obama – it strikes me as out of character for her.  I don’t sense that she possesses the all-consuming “fire in the belly” that is necessary to take up a challenge that will be sure to trigger all the animosity toward her that we saw in the 2008 race: the feeling that she has a sense of entitlement, the resentment toward Bill, and the latent gender issues that invariably will bubble up during the campaign.

For what it is worth (and I don’t think it is worth anything) she has denied any interest in running for President again, ever. If Hillary still harbors presidential ambitions, however, it makes more sense, I think, to wait until 2016.   If she is planning on challenging Obama in 2012, however, a triggering event might be a Republican tsunami in the 2010 midterms.  If the Democrats lose control of the Senate, and a significant number – say, 40 or more – seats in the House, and if the economy continues to shed jobs, and there is no health care legislation AND Obama’s approval ratings hover in the lower 40% range, Clinton might yet summon the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits once again, arguing that she is compelled to do so to rescue the Democrat Party.  Her slogan?  “This time vote for real change!”

P.S.  In my initial post on Hillary as Secretary of State, I set the over-under on her tenure at four years, and asked you to predict when she would resign.  Several of you cited Obama’s first State of the Union as the date of departure – sorry! No t-shirt for you!

Hillary to the Rescue! (You Aren’t Surprised, Are You?)

It was inevitable.

The off-year elections, correctly or not, are being spun by much of the national media as a sign of Obama’s weakening political clout, particularly after he invested considerable time in both Virginia and New Jersey in an unsuccessful effort to prevent Republican victories in both states. Consistent with this spin, Obama’s approval ratings in most polls have now dipped below his proportion of the popular vote in 2008, suggesting he is beginning to lose some of his electoral support, particularly among independents. (Pollster’s composite rating has Obama at a 50.7% favorable rate, while RealClearPolitics puts it at  51.3).

Meanwhile, after leveling off in late September, opposition to health care reform has resumed its upward climb, with Pollster’s composite reading showing 49.5% disapproving and only 41.8% in favor.  Despite an 81-seat advantage in the House, Obama’s health care legislation barely mustered majority support in that chamber and already is being described as dead on arrival in the Senate by moderate Democrats and Republicans.  Other legislation, including banking reform and climate control, are mired in legislative debate and the White House is now taking hits for mishandling the Gitmo closing.

To add to Obama’s political woes, the latest economic figures put unemployment at 10.2%, breaking the symbolic double digit mark, with no expectation that this number will go down any time soon, and fueling Republicans’ complaints that the stimulus bill did little except deepen the budget deficit. Historically, the president’s party typically loses seats in the first midterm election, but the bad economic numbers are leading some pundits to predict a reprise of the 1994 typhoon that ended Democratic control of Congress. In the latest Gallup generic ballot for Congress – which typically understates Republican support – Republicans have now inched ahead of Democrats, 48-44%.

The confluence of all these factors suggests to some that Obama’s presidency is on the downward slide to Carterville, who was one and done in 1980.  It also made the following story almost inevitable – the only question was which news outlet would take the lead.  As it turns out, it was a Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley who, in a column titled “Hillary in 2012?” openly speculates that “it is not implausible that by 2012, the Democratic Party will see Hillary Clinton’s nomination as its best chance for keeping the White House.”  Never mind that the Times is a conservative newspaper – if Blankley hadn’t floated this balloon, some other journalist would have.  It is too good a story to ignore, particular in light of several polls that show Clinton is now more popular than the President.

Yes, Clinton has already sought to preempt this story by announcing that she has no intention of running for President in 2012, but what else can she say?  “If unemployment continues to go up, health care stalls, we stumble in Afghanistan and the Republicans take control of Congress, hell yes I’m running!”?  Remember, as Secretary of State, she can’t be blamed for any of the domestic policy failures attributed to the Obama administration.  And she’s already hinted that she supports McChrystal’s call for more troops in Afghanistan, thus contributing to the pressure on Obama not to reduce the U.S. military presence there. More generally, she benefits from the perception, fueled by White House leaks, that she’s a marginal presence on the Obama foreign policy team, so she’s insulated on this score as well.

Here’s Blankley’s take on foreign policy, which he sees as Hillary’s trump card should she decide to run:It isn’t forgotten that foreign affairs were the major policy disputes between Clinton and Obama during the primary. She accused Obama of “being naive” about agreeing to unconditional meetings with leaders of Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria and Cuba. She was — and is — a strong supporter of Israel and, during the campaign, was opposed to forcing Israel to freeze West Bank settlements unconditionally.

In April 2008, she was “deeply disturbed” by Russia’s move to strengthen links to the separatist regions of Georgia — Abkhazia and South Ossetia. At the time, she called on then-President George W. Bush to send a senior representative to Tbilisi to “show our support.” She also condemned Russia for engaging in a “pressure campaign to prevent Ukraine from seeking deeper ties with NATO.”

Regarding Iran, she favored immediate economic sanctions — last year. She threatened military force if necessary to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. She threatened Iran with nuclear annihilation if it used nuclear weapons on Israel.

This year, as each of those issues emerged, President Obama took a different approach. He had to reverse himself on the unconditional settlement freeze. He let the Russians invade Georgia and was slow to condemn them for it. Iran is pushing the United States (and the world) into a corner on its nuclear development. Israeli/Palestinian “peace” talks are about 98 percent of the way to complete failure of administration objectives.

The worse things get in foreign affairs — and those dark clouds are getting darker and closer — the better Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy will look compared with President Obama’s.”

Never mind that a case can be made defending Obama on each of the issues Blankley cites.  That’s not my point.  Once this balloon has been released, it becomes fair game for every journalist.  And the story is simply too juicy to ignore. Each time the issue is raised, no matter how often Clinton denies any intention of running, it becomes a bigger distraction for Obama and threatens to resurrect the political rivalry between the two.

How can Obama prevent this from happening?  By experiencing a reversal in political fortune, beginning with the economy. Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush are the last two presidents to be seriously challenged within their own party, and both attempts occurred because of bad economic conditions blamed on the president.  Although both Carter and Bush overcame their party challengers, each went down to defeat in the general election.  It is tempting to blame their defeat on the intraparty challenge, but that would be reversing the causal arrow.  In fact, both were opposed for their party’s nomination because they were already weak candidates likely to lose to a strong challenger in the general election.  What this suggests is that Clinton won’t run against Obama unless the climate – particular the economy – offers a reprise of what we saw in 1980 and 1992.

When Ted Kennedy announced, on Nov. 7, 1979, that he was challenging Jimmy Carter for his party’s nomination, unemployment stood a shade under 6%, but the annual inflation rate was hovering above 13%, prompting the creation of the “misery index” as a combined measure of inflation and unemployment. Carter’s approval rating stood at  37%, although it soon jumped up in the aftermath of the Iranian hostage crisis.

Twelve years later, when Pat Buchanan announced in December, 1991, that he was challenging President Bush, unemployment stood at 7.25% and was climbing, although annual inflation was down to 3% and falling. Bush’s approval rating was down to 51% and heading down to a low of 29% midway through 1992.

Today unemployment is 10.2% and is forecast to remain high for the next several years, while inflation is – so far – negligible. Obama’s approval rating, meanwhile, hovers at 50%, and – as yet – shows no indication of bottoming out.  But we are a long way from 2011, which is when any candidate contemplating a challenge to Obama will need to begin organizing.

Will Hillary Clinton challenge Obama in 2012?  It’s far too early to tell, of course, but I think the chances are extremely remote. But that won’t prevent the pundits from speculating.  It’s simply too good a story.

ERROR CORRECTION:  The perils of late night blogging – I wrote that Pat Robertson challenged Bush in 1992 – I meant Pat Buchanan, of course.  The text has been corrected.

Would You Let Your Daughter Spend a “Day” With This Man?

According to media reports (see here), the Clintons are auctioning off a “day” with Bill Clinton as a fundraising event intended to pay down Hillary’s campaign debt. Can you imagine your daughter spending a day with that man?  I imagine they’ll start with a wakeup breakfast at Denny’s – two helpings of “pigs in the blanket” – then off to the dog track.  From there, a quick flight to Vegas to spend the afternoon playing blackjack, and then some quiet time by the pool (don’t forget the sun tan oil and box of McNuggets)  before a massage back at the hotel, a late supper and an evening at the Celine Dion show (don’t forget the personal backstage tour with Celine).

How do you think that conversation began in the Clinton household?  “Honey, I’ve got a wonderful idea to raise money.  And you won’t have to do a thing!”  Cue lamp shade flying. I don’t know what’s more astonishing: that Bill had the chutzpah to raise the idea, or that Hillary agreed to it.  If this isn’t proof that he is an amazing politician nothing is.  For the perfect conclusion, we only need Monica Lewinsky to offer the opening bid.  (Fill in cigar joke here…)

In related news, Hillary has asked Bernie Madoff to invest the money Bill raises from his “date”, and tasked Michael Moore with making the accompanying publicity video.

You can’t make this stuff up.